TB cases last year the lowest since 2005

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Forty new cases of tuberculosis diagnosed in 2012 marks the state’s lowest number since 2005, but New Mexicans remain three times more likely than other Americans to die from the bacterial illness, health officials said.

New cases of TB have averaged around 50 a year from 2000 to 2011 and officials say they hope last year’s low figure signals a breakthrough in the state’s battle against the rare disease.

TB each year kills about 15 percent of New Mexicans in active treatment for the illness – a figure well above the U.S. mortality rate of 4 percent, said Diana Fortune, the New Mexico Department of Health’s TB program manager. It killed six New Mexicans in 2012.

New Tuberculosis Cases In New Mexico, By Year
2012 – 40
2011 – 49
2010 – 51
2009 – 48
2008 – 60
For more information about state Department of Health’s TB program, visit nmhealth.org and search for “tuberculosis” or call 827-2473.

The state’s high death rate reflects delayed treatment of some patients, either because they were slow to seek medical care or were initially misdiagnosed, Fortune said. Native Americans and Mexican immigrants account for virtually all of New Mexico’s TB deaths, she said.

“Whether it is due to the patient or to the clinician, they are being diagnosed way late into their disease process,” she said of the state’s fatal cases. “Even with medication, their bodies can’t recover.”

Tuberculosis is spread through the air from person to person. The TB bacteria can be inhaled when someone with active TB speaks, coughs or sneezes.

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Common symptoms of tuberculosis include a cough that lasts longer than three weeks, unexplained weight loss, night sweats, fatigue and loss of appetite. Anyone with symptoms is urged to seek medical attention. The low-incidence disease is too often misdiagnosed as pneumonia or some other ailment, she said.

TB “is not on the physician’s radar, because it’s not that common,” she said. “A lot of physicians will go their whole medical career and may never see a case of tuberculosis.”

TB can be treated and cured with antibiotics. Once a patient is diagnosed, the state Department of Health supervises treatment and pays for all treatment costs and medications, including exams by a specialized physician.

A nurse observes patients taking medications three to five days a week for up to nine months, she said. Fortune attributed the low number of diagnoses in 2012 to the state’s vigilance of the illness.

“Over the years, sticking with that good standard of care is beginning to have an impact,” she said.
— This article appeared on page A4 of the Albuquerque Journal

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